HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 14-21 (Kevin Mallon/ Norbert Kraft/ Toronto Camerata) (Naxos: 8.557656)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphonies Nos. 14-17
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, he subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit from association with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was probably as early as 1758 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded after his death in 1762 by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain about in the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterhaza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and music for the theatre, as well as music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
Prince Nicolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able to accept an invitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasons organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterhazy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career with them. Much of the year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the 18th century that saw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form and complementary two or three further movements, the former the basis now of much instrumental composition. The symphony may claim to have become the most important form of orchestral composition and owes a great deal, if not its precise paternity, to Haydn. He first attempted such composition some time before 1759 and wrote his last symphonies for London in the final decade of the century.
Symphony No. 14 in A major has been dated to a period between 1761 and 1763. It is scored for the now usual instruments, pairs of oboes and French horns, strings and continuo. The first movement is propelled forward by the continued quaver figuration of the bass. The first subject, with its wide leaps, is followed by a second subject introduced by the violins only. The brief exposition is repeated before a very short development, followed by the recapitulation, sections of the movement that are also repeated, according to custom. The D major slow movement is scored for strings alone, with the melody entrusted to the first violins, doubled an octave below by the cello. The original key of A major returns for the Menuetto, which allows the wind instruments their own say, while the A minor Trio, without French horns and violas, gives the melody to the oboe. The Finale starts with a double subject presented in counterpoint between the first and second violins. The descending scale figuration is found in the secondary thematic material in a sonata-form movement that finds characteristic room for contrapuntal display.
Symphony No. 15 in D major is a slightly earlier work, written about 1760 for Count Morzin, and again scored for pairs of oboes and horns, strings and continuo. The first movement starts with an Adagio, the first violin melody punctuated by the horns, while the oboes remain silent. This Adagio, with its pizzicato
accompaniment, returns after the Presto, with its second subject turning briefly from A major to A minor, and from major to minor in the corresponding passage in the recapitulation. The Menuet frames a G major Trio, scored for strings with solo viola and solo cello. The third movement, a G major Andante for strings and continuo, with something of the dialogue of the developing string quartet, leads to a final Presto, in tripartite form. This has at its heart a D minor secondary section in which the first violin is accompanied by second violin semiquavers and the wind instruments are silent.
Dated to a period between 1760 and 1763, the three-movement Symphony No. 16 in B flat major is similarly scored, with horns now in high B flat. It opens with an Allegro in double counterpoint, demonstrated as the lower part in turn becomes the upper part. This thematic material forms the basis of the whole movement, which otherwise follows the expected key-pattern and central development of sonata-form. The theme of the E flat major Andante is given to the violins doubled an octave below by a cello, while the accompanying material is shared by violas and the cello and bass continuo an octave apart, the wind remaining silent. The symphony ends with a 6/8 Presto that offers immediate exciting contrast to what has gone before.
Symphony No. 17 in F major, also in three movements and written during the period between 1760 and 1762, is scored for the usual instruments. It starts with an energetic Allegro, its central development more extended than those of the other symphonies here included. Following contemporary custom, the F minor slow movement is scored for strings and continuo. Any feeling of melancholy is dispelled at once in the rapid and brief Finale.Keith Anderson